Catalan education centre plan for immigrants fuels controversy

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New education centres for immigrant children may run risk of creating ghettos and further fuel racial segregation.

17 July 2008

BARCELONA / MADRID - The Ombudsman Office warned on Tuesday that plans to set up education centres for immigrant children in Catalonia risk creating ghettos.

"It would be terrible [for ghettos to be created] during an important formative period such as attending school," said Ombudswoman María Luisa Cava de Llano.
"Under no circumstances do I want this to turn into a tool for segregation."

Earlier in July, the Catalan government announced plans to create four "Education Welcome Centres" for foreigners which would open their doors in September. Three would be located in Reus and another in Vic.

Since they are not part of the official education system, some observers believe that the new centres could violate Spanish law, which grants rights to all foreigners under 18 to get an education at public schools.

Labour unions UGT and Anpe have been among the most outspoken critics of the new plan. The UGT labelled them "segregationist" and charged that these centres undermine "the fundamental rights of a person to get free public education irrespective of the person's nationality or background".

"Affront" to the system

Immigrant organisations have also spoken out against the plan. Victor Sáez, president of the Federation of Immigrant Associations (FAI), said that it was an "affront" to the Spanish education system which "favours racial segregation".

Labour Minister Celestino Carballo, however, has publicly backed the initiative, describing it as "brave." However, the Education Ministry has expressed scepticism, insisting the Education Welcome Centres must operate on a "voluntary" basis and be attended by students for "a limited [time period]".

Ombudswoman Llano also expressed concern over how long immigrant children would attend these centres.

She said, however, that if their aim was to enable foreign children to acquire "a knowledge about our linguistic and cultural identity, they could be a positive thing."

Llano stressed that she would be against these centres if they segregated minors from Catalan children attending school.

Rights groups such as SOS Racismo said earlier this week that the centres stigmatised students and their families.

"This eliminates the notion of integration from within the education centre," said SOS Racismo. "What needs to be done is to reinforce existing resources at schools, and hire more teachers if necessary."

[El Pais / Expatica]

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